Texas Tech University

Aliza Wong

Associate Professor of History
Department of History
College of Arts and Sciences
Associate Dean Honors College

Aliza Wong

 

Learn more about Integrated Scholar Aliza Wong in this question-and-answer session.

What are your research objectives and interests?

As a historian, I am fascinated with the ways in which human beings have constructed social, political, cultural and economic structures as a means of connecting with one another, dividing one another, defining one another. I have had the great fortune of working with scholars locally, nationally and internationally, and in the intellectual discussions that we have on understanding the human condition, I am struck by the ways in which our vocabularies intersect, resonate and bend as we exchange ideas. In my work on Italian nationalism, identity and culture, I seek to unravel these vocabularies, whether it be about the constructions of difference between northern and southern Italy, the ways in which Italians imagined the U.S. West, or the negotiations on citizenship and belonging of recent new immigrants to old world Italy.

How do you feel your research impacts the globe?

Like the 2015 Quality Enhancement Plan, I work to understand the ways in which we can facilitate communicating in a global society. Certainly the 21st century has led to new innovation that has facilitated global communication, but as a historian, I see the ways in which societies pre-internet, pre-social media, pre-technology also sought to connect, to learn, to dominate, to understand one another. While certainly with advances in transportation and telecommunication, more people have become aware of our interconnectedness, the age of exploration, the age of conquest far preceded these modern-day inventions. In my work on Italian culture, intellectual and popular, I work to understand how local and regional relationships have affected global vocabularies. I seek to understand how racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, international, global difference has been rationalized in the more familiar vocabularies of regionalism and nationalism. That is, to examine how a culture voices difference, we must first explore the lexicon of self.

What types of service projects have you been involved with?

I have been very proud to be a coordinator on the Open Teaching Concept: Teaching Diversity Across the Curriculum for the past 3 years. Open Teaching Concept (OTC) developed when I served as the faculty ;iaison to the Cross Cultural Academic Advancement Center (CCAAC) in 2011-2012. Then, along with a group of dedicated faculty committed to access and opportunity, the then director of the CCAAC, Jobi Martinez, and I developed an idea to connect the entire campus together in a dialogue of multiculturalism and diversity, politics and privilege, and difference and commonality. The inaugural OTC in 2012 focused on Race and the U.S. Elections and involved 10 faculty members from five different colleges opening up their classrooms, sharing their students, and connecting a discussion on the ways in which race and difference were important features in the political discussions in the American elections. In 2013, we expanded the program to include nine colleges and 20 faculty members, focusing on the theme, Questioning the Pursuit of Happiness, and exploring the nature of poverty and privilege. We were delighted to add a symposium and social media carnival with a keynote by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and founder of the Define American project, Jose Antonio Vargas, as a closing event. In 2014, we included all 11 colleges, 25 faculty members, more than 700 students, concentrating on the QEP – Communicating in a Global Society. OTC has broken faculty out of silos, introduced students to the interconnectedness of our work across campuses and disciplines, and opened up a dialogue on inclusion, excellence, access and opportunity in wonderful previously unimagined ways.

What are you currently working on?

The Honors College is working on a pilot program with the First Year Experience/Learning Community Group classes that will actively engage with the Texas Tech QEP: Communicating in a Global Society. A group of faculty, staff and students have been working hard to offer first year students the opportunity to engage in the types of conversations necessary to create comfortability, awareness, fluency and fluidity in the global languages of community, belonging, difference and commonality. Students will be invited to take part in active learning workshops that explore the politics of difference. Using social media, new technologies, discussion, debate and dialogue, students will experiment with different modalities of communication and speak to local, national and international circumstances. By introducing freshmen to the vocabularies of difference in their very first semester of college, the Honors College hopes to offer students a context within which to participate in difficult dialogues, to seek solutions and to find common ground.

Where do you find your inspiration?

I find inspiration in my students, in my colleagues, in my community, in books, in television, film and on social media. I find inspiration in the combination of the old and the new, the progressive and the traditional, the technological and the ritual. In the intersection and complexities of high brow, low brow and no brow culture, we find new innovation, new landscapes, new promise. I have the great privilege of working on a college campus where in our failures, we find other possibilities of success; in our weaknesses, we find other assets of power; in our roadblocks, we find other avenues of entry. Our greatest inspiration is the power of the people who surround us.

What advice do you have for new faculty members about balancing the components of Integrated Scholarship—teaching, research, and service—in their careers?

The very best teachers I know are the ones who are relentless, who, even after recognition and awards, remain concerned about their influence, their skills. The very best scholars I know are the ones who know exactly how they would revise their past publications, who, even after critical acclaims and good reviews, ask the next research question, formulate the next project. The very best colleagues I know are the ones who ask how they can help, who, even though they have other things on their agenda, attend your presentations, support your endeavors, engage in university life. Balance comes, balance goes. There are moments in which you can give more or less. But the commitment to learning, to ensuring the access and opportunity to education, research, and engagement for students, staff and faculty – that remains the priority.

Scholar background:

Aliza Wong serves as associate dean of the Honors College and is associate professor of history, specializing in race, national identity and popular culture in modern Italy. Since arriving at Texas Tech in 2002, she has taught 16 different courses and has been consistently described by her students as engaging, enthusiastic and supportive. In 2012, Wong initiated the Open Teaching Concept, which encouraged faculty members to reach across disciplinary boundaries and promoted a dialogue about the importance of teaching, mentoring, diversity, access and opportunity. The program effectively engages students and faculty across departments and colleges and now involves more than 25 faculty members across all 11 colleges. Dr. Wong is a two-time Fulbright Research Award recipient for her work on the southern question in modern Italy. A dedicated teacher, Wong has been honored with several teaching awards including the Phi Alpha Theta Distinguished Faculty Award, the Hemphill-Wells New Faculty Teaching Award, the Mortar Board Society's Outstanding Faculty Award, the Alumni Association New Faculty Award, the President's Excellence in Teaching Award, the Inclusive Excellence Award, and the Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award. She received her B.A. from Amherst College and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Colorado at Boulder.